A Hawthorne man was charged Wednesday, July 17, with capital murder for the drowning deaths of his two autistic sons after he drove a car off of a berth at the Port of Los Angeles in 2015.

Ali Elmezayen, 44, was already in federal custody on insurance-fraud charges after he had collected $260,000 from life insurance polices he took out on his two sons, authorities said.

After that federal case is completed, Elmezayen will be tried in Long Beach Superior Court on two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. He was also charged with special-circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murders carried out for financial gain.

If convicted as charged, Elmezayen could face life in prison without the possibility for parole, or even death. Prosecutors will decide later if they want to pursue the death penalty.

Elmezayen was with his wife, Rabab Diab, and his two sons, ages 13 and 8, when the car suddenly accelerated and plunged into the murky water near the Ports O’ Call Village.

Elmezayen and Diab escaped. Elmezayen swam to safety and did not go back for his sons, authorities said.

Diab yelled, “My kids! My kids!” She struggled in the water, authorities said, had to be rescued by a fisherman’s flotation device and later said she could not swim.

A third son was away at a high school camp.

The children were strapped into car seats. Authorities tried to save them, but one was pronounced dead at the scene and the other died in a hospital the following day.

Prosecutors initially declined to file murder charges against Elmezayen, in December 2017, citing insufficient evidence. Charge-evaluation sheets from the D.A.’s Office said witness statements and a police mechanic’s analysis of a faulty brake system made prosecutors skeptical that a murder case could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. It was unclear if the brake system was troubled before the car went into the water.

Prosecutors initially considered charges against Diab as well, but reversed course when they determined she couldn’t help her sons because she didn’t know how to swim. Also, she became visibly upset when she was presented with evidence of the insurance payouts to Elmezayen, according to the federal affidavit.

In interviews, Elmezayen gave police numerous reasons as to why he drove off of the wharf, including that the parking spaces were too close to the edge, the car’s brake system was not working, and an evil presence took over him and he wasn’t himself, authorities have said.

At one point, he also said he may have accidentally hit the gas pedal instead of the brakes. Witnesses recounted that it appeared that was the case.

Both Elmezayen and Diab were seen sobbing in the water, authorities have said.

Hours later, the two were overheard on camera in a police interview room, with Elmezayen asking for assurance that Diab did not divulge any information to authorities about his actions. Later, when the mother asked if the boys were still in the hospital, Elmezayen said, “Yes, Rabab, may God compensate us for the kids. … May God give us better than them.”

It wasn’t immediately known what specifically led prosecutors to file charges against Elmezayen on Wednesday, other than additional investigation was done by Los Angeles police.

Federal prosecutors filed charges against Elmezayen in November 2018 and were possibly tipped after he filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the Port of Los Angeles in May 2016.

LAPD Detective David Cortez, who investigated the deaths and presented the case to prosecutors, said before that lawsuit that police were aware of two insurance policies Elmezayen obtained, but the D.A.’s Office found more in the discovery process.

Elmezayen collected nearly $260,000 in life-insurance policies he had taken out on the boys, federal authorities said in November 2018.

He had allegedly purchased several accidental-death insurance polices totaling $7 million in coverage on himself ($3.6 million), Diab ($3 million) and his three sons in 2012 and 2013 ($130,000 each), authorities have said. He was making $6,000 in payments per year on those policies despite an annual income of $25,000, according to a criminal complaint.

Elmezayen lied to police and said he did not have any life insurance policies on the children, federal prosecutors have said, adding that their evidence includes numerous recorded phone calls in which Elmezayen allegedly posed as Diab, seeking assurance from the insurance companies that they would not investigate any claim made two years after he took out his policies.

The car plunged into the water two years and 12 days after he bought the last of the policies, authorities have said.


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